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An advocate for users

By April 9, 2021September 16th, 2023No Comments

By Allison Campbell-Jensen

Melissa Eighmy Brown

Melissa Eighmy Brown

From her “amazing approach” to providing interlibrary loan services during the pandemic, to her work with her colleagues in the Big Ten Academic Alliance, to presenting at international conferences, Melissa Eighmy Brown has made a mark in her field.

For these accomplishments, she recently received the Virginia Boucher Distinguished ILL Librarian Award sponsored by OCLC, a global library cooperative.

“I was actually really surprised,” says Eighmy Brown, Interim Director of Content Acquisition & Delivery. She notes that in 2016 and 2017, she had collaborated with BTAA colleagues on Discovery to Delivery reports; she knew then that they were working on “something really important, which we felt like was this reshaping of resource sharing.” Yet she still had not expected this award.

Her collaborator from the University of Maryland, Hilary Thompson, is pleased. She says: “She is a continuous voice asking  ‘How do we make this better for our users?’ That dedication is really inspiring.”

User-centric approach

“She is tireless in her work to fill the information needs of our users, and she is continually thinking of ways to improve our work.”

—Kate McCready

Along with BTAA colleagues, Kate McCready, Interim Associate University Librarian for Content & Collections, was one of those who nominated Eighmy Brown for the award. She noted in the nomination letter that during the COVID-19 pandemic — when borrowing of physical materials ceased for a time — Eighmy Brown was quickly able to transition her staff to working from home processing e-resource requests.

She launched a “Suggest a Purchase” request option to facilitate purchases of e-materials and was one of the leaders at the Libraries to start new processes so items could be filled through the HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Program. As the Libraries re-opened, patrons could specify print or digital formats for their loans. The nominators wrote: “These processes were more labor intensive, but also more user centric.”

To help students, Eighmy Brown early on advocated for borrowing course materials, which has saved them an estimated $1.2 million over the past five years. In addition, she coordinated a program to convert thousands of requests into purchased multi-user e-books, on-demand articles, and, in partnership with the University Bookstore, assigned textbooks.

The “Bookstore Partnership Program” is done ahead of the semester so that students can use the Libraries’ copy instead of purchasing their own. This investment of $40,000 a year has produced a potential estimated savings to students of $6.74 million since fiscal year 2016.

In reflecting on the work that Eighmy Brown has done at the University Libraries, McCready says that Eighmy Brown is one of the most knowledgeable, dedicated, and hardworking staff members at the University Libraries.

“She is tireless in her work to fill the information needs of our users, and she is continually thinking of ways to improve our work.”

Accessibility advocacy

“She is a continuous voice asking  ‘How do we make this better for our users?’ That dedication is really inspiring.”

—Hilary Thompson, University of Maryland

While working on retrieving materials for course reserves, Eighmy Brown found out the optical character recognition (OCR) was needed to make PDFs accessible, so that those with vision issues could use a machine reader. In addition, OCR makes PDFs searchable. With Thompson, Austin Smith, and Carol Nelson, she began advocating for PDFs with OCR to be used throughout ILL networks in 2016 and did presentations on their workflows in Minnesota and Maryland in 2019.

“We led a conversation about how this could be scaled up and done more consistently,” Thompson says. “After that presentation, we had conversations with our resource-sharing vendors, and also engaged in conversations and advocacy with our peers about the importance of this.”

Their efforts are showing results. The nominators wrote: “Recently OCLC announced that applying OCR to a batch of documents using Article Exchange was released for pilot libraries in January 2021, which is an important step forward in terms of supporting accessibility and user experience more programmatically across the resource sharing community.”

Likewise, in March, Atlas Systems announced that support for external OCR workflows is planned for the next version release of ILLiad.

Sharing theses and dissertations

Eighmy Brown, Smith, and Thompson also did research on the sharing of theses and dissertations. Eighmy Brown notes that these are frequently requested by patrons but are hard to fill — one reason is the expense and another is how many are embargoed. “Which is problematic because these are frequently requested and often unique materials — no one else has them except the institution where they were deposited by the graduate student,” Thompson says.

With the idea that the research could drive practice, they collected data from their universities and also surveyed other ARL libraries. They found in academic year 2018, 21% of Minnesota authors of theses and dissertations placed embargoes on them, while 51% of Maryland authors did. The difference, Eighmy Brown suggests, may be a matter of culture.

“She crafted a program with our Digital Library Services to begin digitizing the full works of our theses and dissertations on demand,” her nominators note.

In 2019, Eighty Brown co-wrote and co-presented on sharing theses and dissertations at the IFLA Interlending & Document Supply Conference, “Beyond the Paywall: Resource Sharing in a Disruptive Ecosystem,” in Prague. Perhaps discovery, licensing, or university policies would need to change, based on local circumstances.

“This research, which was very important in terms of identifying barriers blocking access to unique resources and solutions to overcome them, was well received by the international audience,” the nominators wrote.

Putting her knowledge to work

The BTAA Discovery to Delivery reports, the nominators write, “outlined user needs, technology infrastructure requirements, and general requirements for advances in resource sharing systems.” Her knowledge and her vision to improve the resource-sharing landscape have made her a sought-after subject matter expert and industry leader.

“She has really deep and valuable knowledge about how to bring that vision for what is better and make it a reality,” Thompson says. “There is this knowledge to make this actionable and doable, and doable at scale.”

The nominators note that Eighmy Brown, among other responsibilities, is serving as chair of the RUSA STARS Interlibrary Loan Committee, leading the group’s efforts to develop professional competencies for resource sharing professionals.

Whatever Eighmy Brown takes on, Thompson says, “she’s so positive and a wonderful collaborator. She brings great energy and perspective to things we work on together.”


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